Most of the fans in attendance at Aqueduct on July 4, 1972 probably had no idea that they had just witnessed the debut of one of the greatest horses who ever raced.
For SECRETARIAT, it began 50 years ago today with a bad trip and a 4th-place finish in a Maiden special weight race with an $8,000 purse. It would be the worst performance of his career.
Red didn’t get hammered at the window that day, but did go off as the 3-1 favorite- the longest price of his career.
Though it was no secret that trainer Lucien Laurin, who Won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes with RIVA RIDGE, had, in SECRETARIAT, a 2-year-old who could run all day.
The reason why SECRETARIAT wasn’t more heavily favored is no doubt due to Laurin’s choice of jockeys. He gave the mount to apprentice Paul Feliciano.
Ron Turcotte, who would become the regular rider of SECRETARIAT, was not available that day because he was at Monmouth Park riding the outstanding filly SUMMER GUEST to Victory in the Monmouth Oaks.
But why a raw, 18-year-old bug? According to then, NYRA track announcer Dave Johnson: “Lucien wanted to get a better price on the horse and that’s why he put Paul Feliciano on SECRETARIAT.”
Though he was beaten, the performance of SECRETARIAT that day did not go unnoticed.
Red returned 11 days later (yes, horses used to do that back then, and pitchers threw complete games too) in another Maiden race at Aqueduct.
Once again, Turcotte did not ride that day at Aqueduct. He suffered a chest injury in a spill on July 6th and missed three weeks. So Laurin, surprisingly, left Feliciano on and the apprentice guided his mount to an easy six-length Win as the 6-5 favorite.
Turcotte took over the reins for SECRETARIAT in his next start, an Allowance Win at Saratoga. Wins in the Sanford, Hopeful and Futurity would follow before SECRETARIAT lost the Champagne Stakes via disqualification.
All this being a part of a campaign that led to the Horse of the Year title.
It became crystal clear to all involved that this was a very special horse.
As for those who bet on SECRETARIAT fifty years ago today at the Big A, the unthinkable happened.
You got 3-1 odds on maybe the greatest horse who ever lived, yet somehow came away empty handed.
But you did witness racing history, whether you realized it or not. So you have that going for you.